My last day at Walmart Labs; Getting comfortable with the Unknown

WILL CODE FOR FOOD: Many thanks to Stephen Aase for his surprise artwork ☺

Today is my last day at Walmart Labs and the last 4 1/2 years have been a fantastic ride. As it comes to the end it has started to feel like the end of college. You have so many emotions: strong feelings for the people that you have met along the way, some pride in the accomplishments, and a fuzzy view to the future and what is to come.

We have seen various phases of growth and change during our time here, including:

Walmart go to market

When Ben and I joined we were starting from scratch. We had no mobile applications and a mobile website that didn’t let you buy anything (A P1 feature in commerce ;). We got scrappy with a small team and rushed out iPhone, iPad, Android apps and a modern SPA mWeb experience. This was an exciting burst of work as we ran against time to catch up to the market. I remember a bizarre experience where I got to receive an award for “best retail apps” in Los Angeles. I was very much the odd man out in the crowd and at one point someone came over to ask me if I could help with some of his computer problems 😉

This time wasn’t just about the front end, as we also had to tackle the fact that we didn’t have services to build our apps on top of. It was at this point that we dove into node and Eran joined to show that node was ready for the massive scale of Black Friday.

Fish where the Fish Are

Although we needed to quickly get obvious mCommerce functionality into our customers hands, we knew from day one that the strategy for success was to engage the hundreds of millions of customers that purchase items in the stores each week (a staggering number).

With mobile, we could be the bridge between the physical and the digital for these customers and we could offer them tools to help them save time (as well as money). If we did a good job, the halo effect to eCommerce would be natural: “oh, you want the pink one? we can ship this here or to your house!”

A key piece of the store experience is integrating with the store systems. This mission was ground combat through legacy systems. The team that pulled off integrations with some of these systems were amazing. We started with platforms such as eReceipts that allow you to never need your physical receipt again. While customers like this, we knew that it was a trojan horse platform. Few people wake up at night thinking “IF ONLY MY RECEIPTS WERE ELECTRONIC!” This platform has enabled great things though, such as powering the One Hour Guarantee program that is basically the worlds largest sale, all at the same time. Then we got to participate in the perfect program for Walmart: Savings Catcher. We knew that our core customers care about value, so what if we can offer an “insurance” so you don’t have to go through circulars all Sunday and be guaranteed a low price? That is where Savings Catcher came in and it has been huge. This is an example of squarely going after a core issue for the customer.

The idea was actually pioneered in the UK with Asda, which brings me to…

Thinking global

We were part of Global eCommerce, and one of the great opportunities was to see the regional differences around the globe and work on problems outside of the Walmart US space.

Asda’s online business is huge with home delivery grocery (the US is only just working this all out), and Sam’s Club is a member model which has very different dynamics.

And then your mind gets blown as you see some crazy things going on in China!

Product culture

Building great products has been great, but I have also loved the challenge of building a great culture. When joining way back when the culture was much more of an IT mindset. Engineering was about fulfillment.

We have tried to move to a product mindset and have seen our best results when teams were autonomous and empowered. The team quickly showed that with a small talent dense group, great things can happen. I am excited to think that this will live on way past my time.

We also got to push on the remote culture. We opened a Portland office on top of a pub with a passionate crew that I love spending time with. We also have people all over the country who produce great work for us. We were the first BigCo on Slack (migrating from Campfire), and it has been the water cooler for the team.

Although I live in the valley, I question the companies and groups who want to keep to teams in their bubble. I don’t care how many smart people are here, there will always be more there, and if we can work out better ways to work together, we will be able to produce great work.

It’s been emotional

While I am immensely proud of the experiences that the team have built, and how we have impacted our customers, at this time I have been thinking of the people. It has been really emotional saying good bye to this team. I start to feel sad, and then remember that this isn’t the end. I very much hope they keep in touch and don’t hesitate to ping me if I can ever be helpful.

It has also been strange to wonder about “what’s next?” I still get a comment “oh come on! you know what is coming!”, and I don’t. I know that I want to continue to work with Ben, because there is nothing better than bouncing ideas off of your best friend, but I also will never get in his way.

I have been thinking about the ambiguity effect:

The ambiguity effect is a cognitive bias where decision making is affected by a lack of information, or “ambiguity”.

The effect implies that people tend to select options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is known, over an option for which the probability of a favorable outcome is unknown.

If someone is given a concrete job opportunity which they compare to their other option of the Unknown you can see how some people can jump from job to job without a plan.

I want to fight this impulse. I know that I need some time to decompress and allow the adrenaline to leave my system. I also know that I need to have a pursuit that I am truly passionate about. I think about ideas around education, health, the developer space, etc…. but I want to be very very open.

A lot has changed outside of work during the time that I have been here. Between Ben and I a few children have been born, and I went through a “renaissance” after my health issue. I have been very fortunate to have a supportive family, and I can’t wait to spend some quality time with them and partner on the future!

Ok. Time to regroup. Love to you all!

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